Serious Illness Leads to Lifetime Quarantine in Molokai Hawaii

January 31, 2021 by Amanda Raitz Hébert

Quarantining in Hawaii had a different meaning than our current COVID-19 quarantine. Years ago, people in Hawaii that were diagnosed with leprosy, were quarantined for life. 

There was no second opinion, but rather a lifetime quarantine in the remote Kalaupapa peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

Today is World Leprosy Day, a day to raise awareness of a disease that many people believe to be extinct. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is curable, but can cause permanent disability, not to mention there is discrimination attached. Leprosy affects the skin, peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Globally about 200,000 cases are still diagnosed and this year, MORE Health joins in the support of other global health organizations to #BeatLeprosy.

History of Leprosy in Hawaii

The remote Kalaupapa peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai housed a settlement for Leprosy patients from 1866 to 1969. The colony was located at the base of some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, rising 2,000 ft above the Pacific Ocean, making a location of true isolation.

It was traumatic for the people that were sent away to Molokai as they didn’t know if they were going to die and they had to leave their families. They were sent shipments of supplies, but often they were thrown into the water by the boats and the exiles had to swim to retrieve. 

In 1873, Father Damien, a Catholic missionary priest from Belgium, arrived. Knowing he would contract leprosy, he traveled to the colony where he remained until his death. During his life in Molokai Father Damien not only administered faith, but he built homes, churches and coffins and helped with medical care.

The isolation law issued by King Kamehameha V was lifted in 1969.

To read more about the history of leprosy visit the International Leprosy Association.

About MORE Health

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